OAKLAND -- California has much room for improvement as it strives to provide for the education, health care and welfare of children, particularly in making sure each child has affordable health coverage, according to a report released Tuesday.

"The declining status of kids in California is the biggest threat to the health and economy of our state," said Ted Lempert, President of Children Now, a nonpartisan research and advocacy organization. "Californians across the board want to see children doing better, and we need to hold the state's policymakers more accountable this year for making that happen."

The organization rated the state in 27 categories. Overall, the state scored mostly average or below on the 2014 California Children's Report Card, with six Bs, eight Cs and 13 Ds. In each area, Children Now outlined a "Pro-Kid Policy Agenda" aimed at helping the state do better.

California's top grade was a B+ for health insurance, based on an increase in public insurance that has helped offset the decline in employer-based insurance programs. But even in this area, the state could improve.

Although more than 738,0000 uninsured children in California are eligible for public coverage, 78 percent of them are not enrolled, the report shows. Children Now suggests that the state should provide every child with affordable, comprehensive health insurance.

At the other end of the spectrum, California's lowest grade was a D- for educating foster youth. The state's foster youth graduate from high school at less than half the rate of other students, with 45 percent of foster youth graduating, compared to 79 percent of general students.

Children Now recommends that the state work with local school districts to ensure that the new funding system -- which gives more money to those with low-income, English learners and foster youth -- results in a high-quality education for all.

Jessica Mindnich, director of research for Children Now, said she hopes the report card will raise public awareness of the state's shortfalls and help build momentum toward policy reforms.

"The first piece of it is knowing: 'Who are the kids that live in California, and how are they doing?'" she said. "It's really about prioritizing kids and making sure that public policy mirrors public will. Some things will cost more money, but others are about making sure that things are implemented well, such as health insurance." Jonathan Kaplan, a senior policy analyst for the independent California Budget Project, said he agreed with the report's recommendation to increase investment in K-12 education. The state earned a D in this category.

"California is spending less dollars than other states per student," he said. "Yet it has more resources than the rest of the U.S., and its students present greater challenges than those in the rest of the U.S. So, we're not rising to the challenge that our population presents, and that is something that I think the state needs to consider."

The report points out that in 2010, California's per-student spending was $3,500 below the national average. And between 1995 and 2014, per-student spending increased 19 percent, from $6,971 to $8,304, while spending per prisoner ballooned 82 percent, from $32,933 to $60,032.

The report also touched on other areas, including preschool (C+), tackling chronic absences (C+) and providing "linked learning" (B) opportunities relevant to the real world.

In an end-of-the-year interview last month, state Superintendent Tom Torlakson said these are all high priorities in 2014, along with getting 1 million uninsured students enrolled in Covered California.

"One-quarter of 4-year-olds in the state are in transitional kindergarten," he said. "We need to get the other three-quarters into preschool. We have to have them succeed."

2014 CALIFORNIA 2014 CHILDREN'S REPORT CARD
The Report card released by Children Now rates the state according to 27 total categories in the areas of education, health and child welfare.
CATEGORY SUBCATEGORY GRADE
EDUCATION
Infant and toddler care D
Preschool C+
Kindergarten transition B-
Children's savings accounts D
K-12 investments D
School finance reform B-
Common Core Standards B-
STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) D+
Teacher training and evaluation D
Expanded learning B+
Linked learning B
Innovation and technology D+
School climate and discipline C-
Chronic absence C+
HEALTH
Developmental and Behavioral Screenings C-
Home visiting D
Health insurance B+
Oral health D+
Health care access C-
Health homes and care coordination C-
Mental health D
Obesity C-
School-based health services D+
CHILD WELFARE
Education of foster youth D-
Health of foster youth D+
Family preservation and reunification D+
Stability and permanency C
SOURCE: California Now
The complete report is available by visiting www.childrennow.org/2014-RC